Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

2018 Midterms Could Have Wide Impact on Education Issues


The 2018 midterm elections are (almost) now in the books. Here is a brief review of the education outcomes relating to Common Core, Congress and FedEd, school funding, and school choice:

Common Core

There is much new data and analysis coming out about falling ACT scores under Common Core, the twin dangers of Common Core and school choice, and Joy Pullman’s excellent piece on the overall failure of Common Core:

Common Core sucked all the energy, money, and motivation right out of desperately needed potential reforms to U.S. public schools for a decade, and for nothing.

As discussed in September, there were several gubernatorial primaries where Common Core was an important issue. Here are the general election results:

  • Florida: Win for Anti-Common Core Ron DeSantis – While President Trump’s endorsement and strong support was likely the major factor for this former congressman’s wins in both the primary and general election, we believe that Common Core and education played a significant role as well. He beat Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a strong supporter of Common Core, by 20 points in no small part by making Common Core an issue.Unfortunately, the establishment elements of his team toned down his anti-Common Core message during the general election campaign to merely promising a review, promoting school choice, and then having that plan endorsed by pro-Common Core politicians like Jeb Bush. While very happy that DeSantis won and anxious to work with him, anti-Common Core groups in the Sunshine State can’t help but wonder if the margin of victory would not have been as narrow if the campaign had better engaged this potent force of dedicated parents and grandparents. Hopefully now that the whirlwind of the campaign is over, his transition team will look at the all of the reports mentioned above as well as the concerning data about charter schools.
  • Georgia: Apparent Win for Anti-Common Core Brian Kemp – As of now, according to multiple sources, Republican Brian Kemp is ahead of progressive Democrat Stacey Abrams by enough votes to eliminate the necessity of a recount or runoff, but the votes will not be certified until November 20th. Kemp has been strongly anti-Common Core and there is a great grassroots infrastructure in Georgia ready to help him keep his promise.
  • Minnesota: Anti-Common Core Candidates Drops Issue in General Election – Republican Jeff Johnson ran hard against Common Core in 2014 and criticized his primary opponent for adopting the Common Core English standards, but then said nothing about it in a general election education debate. Minnesota is a very hard state for a Republican to win, so there are likely many other reasons that Johnson lost to Democrat former Congressman Tim Walz, who voted for Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but as in Florida, more strongly opposing Common Core would likely have helped.

Congress and FedEd Issues

With Democrats regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives after eight years, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) will be the new chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. He strongly supported ESSA, supports social emotional research in SETRA, data collection, the epic disaster that is Head Start, and increased education spending that is unconstitutional at the federal level.

Dr. Mary Byrne, co-founder of Missouri Coalition Against Common Core and Heartland Institute education expert, summed the situation up nicely:

Now that Democrats have regained control of the House, look for the new chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) to protect Obama-era education policies embedded in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Despite plummeting standardized assessment scores across the country – and despite the failure of common standards aligned to 11 federal laws in ESSA – Scott will protect the law rather than evaluate its negative effects on student learning.

Multiple members of the committee resigned or were defeated in the election, so the direction of the committee may change with new members. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — who were chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the PreK-12 subcommittee — and Luke Messer (R-Ind.) all left to run for other offices. Polis and Messer were working on student privacy issues, albeit from a more corporate perspective. Two other Republicans, Dave Brat (Va.) and Jason Lewis (Minn.), lost their seats, and Karen Handel (R-Ga.) is in grave danger of doing so.

How this will effect the potential passage any major education legislation — with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) remaining as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Donald Trump as president leading up to both their re-election campaigns — remains to be seen. Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, has noted:

Something like the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which beyond partisan philosophical differences also involves significant federal costs, would be even less likely to happen, given the inevitable blame game and finger-pointing around fiscal responsibility and the deficit.

School Choice

The Arizona initiative to make education savings accounts (ESAs) available to all students instead of just special needs students failed by a 2-to-1 margin — despite the winners being badly out-funded. Lack of accountability leading to waste of taxpayer funds was already a major concern for the special needs ESAs. This concern expanded to the strong potential of these wasted dollars decreasing funding for public, charter and private schools and harming educational achievement.

The removal of Florida’s school choice constitutional amendment by the courts combined with this Arizona defeat means that there has still been no statewide school choice program approved by voters. Although many parents — including the 90 percent whose children attend public schools — are concerned about Common Core and other public school issues, they also do not want the public system blown up by corporate elites pushing choice programs that are not always fiscally and or academically effective while also imposing Common Core testing mandates, and therefore the standards, on private schools.

School Funding

Many local bond referendums and sales tax increases to fund various education initiatives passed throughout the country, even in generally tax-averse states like Florida. This seems to be related to voter concern about school safety, teacher shortages, building conditions, etc. All of these concerns should be laid at the feet of federal and state legislators and bureaucrats that imposed standards and testing mandates and the thoroughly ineffective yet very expensive education technology, data gathering, SEL, and personalized computerized learning boondoggles that are siphoning money from the basics needed for an educated citizenry.

This election makes it abundantly clear why we must continue the fight to #EndFedEd and #StopCommonCore.

Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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